Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
National Farmers' Federation President reports from Brussels on progress of GATT talks

MATT ABRAHAM: Well, it hasn't got all that much publicity. I suppose it's been, in a way, dispatched to the back pages and sometimes down the news bulletins on both TV and radio, but the GATT talks, talks which are crucial to, many people think crucial to a stable trading world, are in trouble. The future of world trade's in the balance, with the final week of the Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT, in Brussels this week. The stakes are high, particularly for Australian agriculture which has been crippled by the high subsidy policies of the European Community and the United States, plus the protectionist stance of Japan.

Accompanying the Australian Minister for Trade Negotiations, Dr Neal Blewett, to the negotiations is the President of the National Farmers' Federation of Australia, Mr John Allwright, who joins us on the line now from Brussels. Good morning.

JOHN ALLWRIGHT: Good morning.

MATT ABRAHAM: How have the talks gone so far?

JOHN ALLWRIGHT: Well, actually, it's night here of course, and we've just finished a most intense day of negotiation, but, unfortunately, no movement from the Europeans at all on giving way on any of the issues. And, in fact, the whole GATT is in crisis tonight. And the Government are standing firm. They are saying that we've got to have some changes and we're not going to settle for a second best agreement. So it's going to be fascinating to see what happens tomorrow. There's a rumour that Mr Kohl, the new Chancellor of Germany and Mr Mitterrand are meeting overnight ... from five major farming organisations - that's the ones in Africa, in New Zealand, in Argentine and in the United States - and I've circulated that letter to heads of government in Europe and to all the delegation leaders, to urge them to make a final last effort to break this deadlock.

MATT ABRAHAM: Mr Allwright, I suppose, despite the best wishes, the outlook would have to be very grim?

JOHN ALLWRIGHT: Yes. I've been a bit optimistic up until now, but I'm getting more and more pessimistic. It does appear that the Europeans are not prepared to budge. I guess we've got another couple of days, and so perhaps there's some hope that they'll change and move a bit in the next couple of days. But, really, the whole thing is right at the cutting edge at the moment, and I think it's a matter of seeing what develops overnight and what, perhaps, develops in the early part of tomorrow.

MATT ABRAHAM: Yes. We've been four years in getting to this. You would think that you would have been able to, or somebody would have been able to knock a few chinks in the European Community, but it doesn't appear to have happened. I'm sorry, I was just saying that this has been four years in coming, these final talks. You would have thought that somebody would have been able to make some impression on the European Community's stance.

JOHN ALLWRIGHT: I agree with you. I think it's absolutely appalling that the Europeans are following a policy of subsidisation that is creating vast surpluses which they are then dumping on the world market, at far under the cost of production. And, of course, that's crippling farmers in many parts of the world, and particularly in Australia. We've seen the price of wheat come down very significantly this year. It's going to very seriously hurt Australian wheat growers, and yet there doesn't seem to be any sympathy for that point of view here. And, you know, I agree. I think it's terrible that we can spend all this time and effort and not reach any point.

But there are some other issues, of course, within the GATT. There's not only agriculture, there's goods and services which are things like banking and insurance, and a whole range of other products. And all these issues are being held up because of the lack of progress in agriculture.

MATT ABRAHAM: John Allwright, I hope we can catch up with you later in the week, and hopefully with some good news from the GATT talks in Brussels.